I was pleased to see a spirited defense of the new Ontario Trillium Scholarships, aimed at foreign doctoral students, in yesterday’s newspapers. In an opinion piece in the Toronto Star, University of Waterloo President Feridun Hamdullahpur called the new program “a brilliant move” and said it should be applauded by all.
Also in the Star, Bonnie Patterson, President of the Council of Ontario Universities and former head of Trent University, argued more generally about the benefits of international students.
The 75 scholarships – each one providing $40,000 a year for up to four years – are designed to attract the world’s top graduate students to pursue doctoral studies in Ontario. The province will invest $20 million to support the program, with participating universities contributing a further $10 million.
The idea is that some of these newcomers will stay in the province after graduation, benefiting us with their innovation and dynamism; and that those who return home will forge long-lasting links with Canada and act as ambassadors for the country.
An editorial in the Globe and Mail yesterday also praised the program as “forward-looking” and a “highly worthwhile investment.” It noted that Ontario is following the lead of the federal government, which launched the $45-million Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships this past July. That program – open to both Canadian and international researchers – will award 70 new fellowships a year valued at $70,000 annually.
Yet when the new Trillium scholarships were announced, they were strongly criticized by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative opposition, which set up an online petition calling on Premier Dalton McGuinty to cancel the program and to “keep Ontario dollars for Ontario students.”
“To give $40,000 a year to foreign students, that’s just wrong. The money should go to Ontario families first,” said PC leader Tim Hudak to reporters.
I find the opposition’s opposition to the program a bit disingenuous. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember the previous PC government of Premier Mike Harris being particularly generous towards Ontario’s university sector. The PC’s online petition laments the high debt load and tuition fees of Ontario’s students, so does this mean we’ll see a drop in fees if they’re elected?
What’s more, I’m uncomfortable with attempts to pit foreign students against domestic ones. I applaud the Canadian Federation of Students, who refused to play that game. In a release, they welcomed the new support for international students while pointing out that all students in financial need should get more aid.
Of course, I acknowledge there is a segment of the population who do not see the benefits of the foreign scholarship program as self-evident. An editorial in the Barrie Examiner, which represents a more rural readership than the big Toronto dailies, called the Ontario premier “out of touch” with ordinary Canadians. I find the editorial’s arguments simplistic and fallacious, but I suppose that was to be expected.
A very insightful piece by Adam Radwanski in the Globe and Mail examines the debate from a “culture-war” perspective and is well worth a read.